Friday, May 11, 2007

America? Which America?

When I lived in England I had a view of America. It’s normal, we all do. America is a big influence there, as in many other parts of the world. My view varied over the years, as I grew up and influences on me changed; but also as I developed an independent perspective on the world around me.

Growing up, America wasn’t a nice place. The ideology my parents subscribed to held the United States responsible for a great deal that is wrong with the world. It was a view I grew up sharing, and, in truth, I can see where that comes from. It’s never quite gone away. It should have, because, as always, it’s never that simple. Let me give you a small example of how this view forms:

In theory, America is a Capitalist nation, where the vested interests of business outweighs the personal interests of the people. Of course it is never put quite like that, but judge me not by what I say, rather judge me by what I do! The old Soviet Union, on the other hand, was exactly the reverse. Again, it’s never quite so simple and Judge me not ……. Well you get the drift.

So let’s jump back a few years to the moment these two great cultures had a defining episode, and one which might, had two people of great wisdom and commitment not put country above personal considerations, have been a disaster for us all. The episode is known as the *Cuban Missile Crisis*.

I am not going to rehearse the argument. That has been, and continues to be done by scholars, and others, much better and more completely than I have time for. Rather, I would like to look at the conventional wisdom in the West. I’d like to briefly look at the two main contenders, and see what they predict for us all, in our differing environments.

America had John F Kennedy. A young President who has been pretty much raised to Sainthood here in the US. It is he who is credited with *bringing us back from the brink*, he who is seen as the strong, determined leader. He who represents the American Way. Kruschev is the enemy, the warmonger who was ultimately defeated by American might and resolve.

This is an unfortunate view. It is unfortunate that the tone of a nation can be set in this manner. I have little doubt that JFK had some very fine qualities. I equally wonder how much more just a society might this be had he been allowed to complete two full terms, then remain and still be influencing policy today. We’ll never know.

But how accurate is this *good guy*, *bad guy* scenario? Was Kruschev the evildoer? I suspect it’s not that simple. Nikita Kruschev was head of the Politburo and General Secretary of the Communist Party. Both positions required that he be elected by his immediate peers and colleagues. In the world of politics, both here and in Russia, such a position is not comparable to the US President. He is elected, indirectly, by the people, and can only be removed by Congress, or by term. Nikita Kruschev had many competing views, not to command, but to balance. JFK had only to follow his instincts. This is not to demean JFK, merely to compare their two positions.

Once those missiles left Russia, it is unlikely that Kruschev could have stopped them any earlier than he did. Had he attempted to do so, he could very easily have been replaced. What is important is simply that his replacement would have, by definition, been a politician with less inclination to turn the ships around than Kruschev; and then where would we have been? The only way those missiles were heading home was when Kruschev could convince the Politburo that the Americans were NOT going to back down, and that feat of diplomacy required JFK to play his part without over-reacting. Both men did what was needed, and a crisis averted.

It really does take two to tango. Kruschev needed JFK to be strong, and he was. The world needed those two men to *step up*, and they did. I am minded, at this point, to pause for a moment and wonder how the current incumbent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have handled it …. OK, enough doom and gloom for one day.

My point, if you are still with me, is that the emotional health of this great nation would benefit immensely from realizing that there are shades of grey. That Nikita Kruschev may indeed have been a bad guy, but on that day he played a full and active part in probably the greatest test of diplomacy the world has ever faced. It might allow some here to realize that military might is not, ultimately, the solution to anything other than the bottom lines of the military suppliers.

It might help Toby Keith refrain from such crass nonsense as this:

Now, this nation that I love has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin in from somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty started shakin her fist
And the eagle will fly
And there's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringin her bell
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is rainin down on you
Hey, brought to you courtesy
Of the red, white, and blue.

Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
You'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
Cause, we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

I adore many of your songs, Toby, but really … grow up!

Where was I ? Oh yeah …..

So my view of America was formed by events such as this, events that had a profound effect on many yet don’t, I find, come to represent the reality here at all. They do, however, represent the views of a large and extremely noisy section of society here.

I live in Oklahoma. If I can’t live in *Old England*, then I would probably feel more comfortable in *New England* than I do here. There you have it. That is the thing about America that Europeans don’t get. When you talk about America, you have to ask: Which one?

Oklahoma is the State that allows you to shoot someone who approaches you in your car. Chicago has all but banned handguns. New York’s Mayor believes Gay Marriage should be permitted, and he’s a Republican. Oklahoma Republicans think he is going straight to Hell. Federal Law bans the use of religious symbols in State funded and operated institutions. Oklahomans put the Ten Commandments on the lawn in front of courthouses (actually, that is probably just to remind the judges arriving for work which of them they broke last night). Oklahoma has Toby Keith, Pete Seeger was from New York.

Oklahoma is not alone, and it’s not only Southern States that are different either. Oklahoma no more represents the USA, than does Washington DC, Vermont, Florida etc, etc.

The USA is not easily categorized, it depends where you are from, what background you have, what problems you face. I know that is true of many places, to an extent, but here it is magnified to a point where the entire nation is split along racial, religious, social, economic and political lines in a way that would be quite startling to Europeans (I know this, I came here and am more than a little surprised).

Americans take themselves way too seriously ….. seriously! As a nation, but less so as people, they give the world the view that they are a violent, greedy and dangerous country to have in our midst. Americans do not see this at all, but it isn’t helped by the very bad habit politicians have of giving the dumbest names to legislation. The Patriot Act! Implied in the title is that to oppose it would be unpatriotic. Actually what the Patriot Act does is to overturn 200 years of the Bill of Rights, and is the most deeply unpatriotic legislation this country has, with the possible exception of the Who Needs Habeas Corpus Act (they called that one the Military Commissions Act). Quite frankly, the world needs a Patriot Act to protect itself from the current band of villains running the show here.

In Oklahoma we have the Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Act 2007. Cute huh? Well basically it allows citizens here to abuse immigrants without fear of reprisals. Why didn’t they just call it the Immigration Act 2007? Simple. Immigration has bugger all to do with the State Legislature, it is a Federal matter. Govenor Henry, who signed this worthless piece of paper into law admitted as much, but he did at least have the common decency to stop the religious right’s attack on women this month. That was, by the way, about abortion.

I’m gonna stop here, conscious though I am that this is incomplete. I am well aware that I started this entry to look at some of the reasons and causes of the divisions, and I haven’t moved on to the biggest. I will though, but it will be later today, or in the next few days.

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